Category Archives: Fiction Writing

Author of the Week, Ann Cleeves, November 1

AUTHOR OF THE WEEK    November 1

Ann Cleeves

(Mystery, Crime, and Detective Novels)

“I write like a reader, without any planning. I have to write the next scene to know where the story is going.

“I get my greatest ideas By listening to other people. That’s what I’ve missed most during the pandemic: the overheard conversations in trains or restaurants. Places often trigger ideas for books too.”

“I like really complex locations, places that hit you and strike you.   I grew up in North Devon so I know it quite well and I like that mix of cosiness – we think of Devon as having cream teas and thatched cottages.”

 

Ann Cleeves (born 1954)  is a British author of crime fiction. She has written 30 novels in 30 years, and is the creator of detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez  dramatised as the TV detective series Vera, and the Jimmy Perez Shetland novels as the series Shetland. Her latest novel is The Heron’s Cry and it features Detective Matthew Venn. For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. Her novels sell widely and to critical acclaim in the United States. Raven Black was shortlisted for the Martin Beck award for best translated crime novel in Sweden.

“Ann Cleeves is one of my favorite mystery writers.”—Louise Penny

 

Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny on Writing at Politics and Prose (1 hour):

This is delightful video if you are a writer or lover of reading crime fiction. Worth the hour indulgence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit Ann Cleeves Amazon Book Page:

https://www.amazon.com/Ann-Cleeves/e/B001IOF9MG

 

Please join me in my reading nook and discover an author on Mondays at Reading Fiction Blog!

Browse the Index of Authors’ Tales above to find over 200 free short stories by over 100 famous authors. Once a month I feature a FREE short story by contemporary and classic authors.

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Author of the Week, Michael Chabon, May 24

AUTHOR OF THE WEEK   May 24

Michael Chabon

(Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Essays)

 

 

 

“Man makes plans … and God laughs.”

“When I finish a first draft, it’s always just as much of a mess as it’s always been. I still make the same mistakes every time.”

“You need three things to become a successful novelist: talent, luck and discipline. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two.”

Michael Chabon (born 1963), American author, became a literary celebrity with his first novel, The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh at the age of twenty-five.  He wrote the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning  Moonglow, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and Wonder Boys (1995; film 2000). And two collections of short stories, and one other work of non-fiction.

“Mr. Chabon is that rare thing, an intelligent lyrical writer.”The New York Times Book Review.

Wonder Boys caught me up and carried me along like some kind of flying carpet. . . . Michael Chabon keeps us wide awake and reading.”—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, NPR

Visit his Amazon Page:

https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Chabon/e/B00456TWZY

 

 

 

 

Please join me in my reading nook and discover an author on Mondays at Reading Fiction Blog!

Browse the Index of Authors’ Tales above to find over 200 free short stories by over 100 famous authors.

Once a month I feature a FREE short story by contemporary and classic authors.

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Author of the Week, May Sarton, May 17

AUTHOR OF THE WEEK   May 17

May Sarton

(Novelist, Memoirist, Poet)

“I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.”

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”

“I suppose I have written novels to find out what I thought about something and poems to find out what I felt about something.”

“I feel happy to be keeping a journal again. I’ve missed it, missed naming things as they appear, missed the half hour when I push all duties aside and savour the experience of being alive in this beautiful place.”

 

May Sarton (1912—1995)  is the pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton.  Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938.

Her memoir, best-selling Journal of a Solitude, 1973, was an account of her experiences as a female artist, and is still read today, praised as “rich in the love of nature and the love of solitude … a beautiful book, wise and warm within its solitude,” by Eugenia Thornton. Sarton became acquainted with many literary figures, including Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen. She taught at both Harvard and Wellesley; her books are a part of  college courses throughout the country. 

May Sarton died of breast cancer  in 1995, at the age of 83. She said of her work: “It is my hope that all the novels, the poems, and the autobiographical books may come to be seen as a whole, the communication of a vision of life.” She has an extensive and impressive legacy’ with over 50 published works.

[Note: I have a long-lasting love of May Sarton’s journals and fiction. I probably own 30+ of her 50 works, and often reread her journals, especially House by the Sea, my favorite. She falls deeply in love with nature, flowers, gardens, land, sea and sky, and her writing. She writes her best in this book, just luminous! A book to keep by your bed and savor before turning out the light, taking May’s wise thinking into your subconscious. If you read only one book by May, House by the Sea will capture your heart, imagination, and soul. Sarton is an inspiration.]

 

Interview (30-minute film) with May Sarton hosted by Karen Saum. Sarton speaks about poetry and her writing. This vimeo is followed by another of Sarton’s events “May Sarton: Writing in the Upward Years” (1988).


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/15202922″>May Sarton She knew a Phoenix</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user3645923″>Belfast Community Media</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Sarton’s Novels:

 

May Sarton’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/May-Sarton/e/B000AQ48TS/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please join me in my reading nook and discover an author every week at Reading Fiction Blog!

Browse the Index of Authors’ Tales above to find over 200 free short stories by over 100 famous authors.

Once a month I feature a FREE short story by contemporary and classic authors.

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Book Review, Anatomy of Prose by Sacha Black

June 10, 2020   Book Review and Commentary, the Craft of Writing

 

The craft of writing is an ongoing exploration for me. My post Reviews of Writing Craft Books on this blog has reviews with a long list of the best books on writing and my recommendations. Here is a review of Sacha Black’s newest release Anatomy of Prose, 12 Steps to Sensational Sentences.

 

This book is going to go down as one of the MUST READs for any writer, beginner or seasoned. While John Truby, Ray Bradbury, and Sol Stein are at the top of that list, I will add Sacha Black to the list of Top Ten Books to Read on Novel Writing. She covers everything you need to know, in depth, about writing fiction. I have over 30 writing books on my shelf and they all instruct on how to improve a writer’s prose. Of course, Black goes beyond just the prose, she gives you direction on story structure, pace, characters, emotional intelligence, brilliant show vs. tell insights, and the value of great sentences compared to average sentences. She identifies the literary devices that will make your prose more powerful and memorable. I especially liked her advice on writing descriptive prose.

For new writers, this book will provide a major leap to improving your writing skills. For the seasoned writer (with every novel, we continue to keep learning this craft), Black explores so many fascinating tools and precise techniques that I felt all my writing skills sharpened and crystalized to another level. She does have a potty mouth, which would normally turn me off, but the writing is so endearing, so witty, I didn’t mind at all. Highly recommended.

 

Sacha  Black writes books about people with magical powers and other books about the art of writing. She lives in Hertfordshire, England, with her wife and genius, giant of a son.

 

 

 

 

For more book reviews and recommendations on the craft of writing, click HERE.

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In Memory of My Publisher Phil Martin

A Memorial …

Philip Martin

For those of you who know my novels, it is with deep regret that I write this memorial for my publisher Philip Martin of  Crickhollow Books, Great Lakes Literary, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He died on March 3, 2019. All three of my mysteries were published under Phil’s imprint  Crispin Books. He was a dear man with a love of literature, appreciation of good writing, and dedicated to discovering and promoting emerging authors. Just recently he celebrated ten successful years of his publishing company. His book How to Write Your Best Story is one of the most valuable books on my shelf. One of his best pieces of writing advice was not so much about writing as it was to letting the story stretch and to listen, “Listen to what the story needs.  Listen to what the characters need. Listen to what the readers need.”

Phil believed that stories connect us. He believed there was magic in storytelling and that storytelling helps to make us whole.  “Good storytelling is like a beautiful melody or an appealing fragrance.”

Phil discovered me on Linked In and contacted me in 2013 after reading my ghost story The Dazzling Darkness. He went on to publish Night Sea Journey and Greylock. He knew about my fourth novel and was anxious to hear about it, ever encouraging and supportive. Over the past six years,  I was among many writers he brought into his circle.  His legacy, his wisdom, will endure in all of  us.  Thank you, Phil for all you’ve done for me and for my stories. You made a tremendous difference in my life, my creativity, and my stories.

Philip Martin Obituary

 

Rest in peace.

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How Writers Craft Emotion

The Emotion Thesaurus, A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (Second Edition) 

by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

Book Review and Commentary  February 26, 2019

Emotion vs. feeling. We tend to use these words interchangeably but they really are different. In writing fiction and creating character expression, it’s important to understand that they are closely related but distinct. The Psychology Dictionary defines emotion (fear, joy, surprise) as a ‘complex reaction to situations around us.’ Feeling is defined as any sensation, a ‘self contained experience of phenomena. Feelings (jumpy, alarmed, brave) are subjective and are independent of the sensory modality.’ To simplify, we might say emotions happen to us physically, and feelings are more of a mental portrait because it requires personal introspection.

In Ackerman and Puglisi’s second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus, they address the power of emotion in fiction. The whole point of the book is that ‘readers don’t want to be told how a character feels; they want to experience the emotion for themselves.’ This book is a great addition to any writers resource library. It’s a how-to and in-depth book on how writers can craft emotion on the page. The advice here is professional and precise, easy to follow, and explores some 130 emotions. For example, for the emotion of dread, they list all the physical signals and behaviors, internal sensations, mental responses, acute or long-term responses, signs of suppression, escalation, de-escalation, and associated power verbs.

The authors cover dialogue, vocal cues, body language, thoughts, visceral reactions, backstory, emotional wounds, and subtext. I have other thesauruses by Ackerman and Puglisi, but this one is really their finest. I prefer the print version to the Kindle because it’s great to have the book open on my desk for a wide view of the lists to jump-start me in exploring character motivation/reaction to discover the precise behavior that fits.

Highly Recommended!

On Amazon

Authors websites: http://writershelpingwriters.net    http://onestopforwriters.com

My Recommended List—

Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

Mystery and Manners, The Nature and Aim of Fiction  by Flannery O’Connor  (review here)

Author in Progress, a No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published by Therese Walsh, Editor & the Writer Unboxed Community (book review here)

How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell (book review here)

Creating Characters, The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction, by the Editors of Writer’s Digest (book review here) 

Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, & Screen, by Robert McKee  (book review here)

The Annotated Dracula (Bram Stoker), Annotated by Mort Castle (book review here) (Also The Annotated Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Annotated by K.M. Weiland)

How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration, Editor Brunello and Lencek  (book review here)

Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of WritingRay Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)

 

More Craft Books I’ve Read and Recommend:

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.

Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps StructureSteven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay

Do leave me a comment!

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2019 A New Year Celebration: Creativity

Happy New Year, 2019  January 1

 

We are celebrating 2019 today. We are celebrating Creativity! To my followers here at Reading Fiction Blog, as of this month this blog has over 100,000 views. To the readers, writers, and artists who come here because they love the fictional world, thank you for participating in the joy of story. The creative art of fiction surely can transform us if only for  an hour or two. Stories have the power to dissolve the boundaries between us and connect our minds and hearts, sometimes our very souls.

We live inside this star-studded universe, but let’s remember that the universe lives inside us.

Carl Sagan said that like all creatures on this planet, we are made of starstuff.  William Blake saw the universe in a grain of sand. I wish you all abundant creativity. Stay inspired.

To all the creative spirits here, I share this poem Artist’s Prayer by Alex Grey to celebrate 2019 and all you endeavor.

 

Artist’s Prayer

Creator of the Universe,
How infinite and astonishing
Are your worlds.
Thank you,
For your Sacred Art
And sustaining Presence.

Divine Imagination,
Forgive my blindness,
Open all my Eyes.
Reveal the Light of Truth.
Let original Beauty
Guide my every stroke.

Universal Creativity,
Flow through me,
From my heart
Through my mind to my hand,
Infuse my work with spirit
To feed hungry souls.

by Alex Grey, The Mission of Art

 

 

May this new year be abundant every day.

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Creativity for Artists: Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (published in 1929)

Book Review and Commentary   April 11, 2017

 

“Rodin lived inside his art.”

First, this book  is not about poetry. If you are an artist,  novelist, sculptor, painter or poet, or creative nonfiction writer then you probably have had moments, perhaps even weeks or months, when you entered a period of despondency and thought “What is this all for? Why bother? Maybe I should give up.” Art and struggle go hand and hand for most of us. You’ve probably read all the pep blogs about following your passion and keeping the faith, recognizing the common Van Gogh blues, blah, blah, blah.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke tell us that the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin “lived inside his art.” Who cannot look at  The Thinker and not ruminate with him. Rodin and Rilke were the deepest of friends and comrades in creativity.

 

Whatever kind of artist you are, Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is a voice worth listening to.  The letters were written in the early 1900s when Rilke was about 30 years old. He wrote ten letters to a young poet named  Franz Kappus, offering not only advice and  inspiration, but a philosophy on how to cultivate the creative spirit and be true to yourself and your art.

Rilke’s book is such a refreshing look at why a person writes  or creates art at all. He addresses doubt, loneliness vs solitude, nature, love, patience, demons and dreams,  absolute conviction, and passion. This is probably one of the most impressive of books I’ve read on this subject. The thoughts in this little 100-page book is a true source and one to keep on the night stand. I love to open a page at random and see what Rilke has to say to me for the day. Page 61 told me that “We must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance.”

This book is for any artist who wants validation to soldier on and  inspiration on how to live as an artist.

[This edition was translated by Joan M. Burnham, published by New World Library, 2000, ISBN 1-57731-155-8]

In you are fascinated by Rilke and want more of his insights about his life as an artist, you would probably enjoy You Must Change Your Life by Rachel Corbett. This is the biographical story of Rilke and the artist Auguste Rodin, their friendship, their heartbreaking rift, and the reconciliation.  Unforgettable portraits of both creative masters.

REVIEW: “Much more than the story of Rilke as a young man serving as the personal secretary and confidante to Rodin. Laced with first-and second-hand accounts of the artists and their milieu, You Must Change Your Life is an examination of the gritty how and why of artistic creation, as well as an acknowledgement of the costs of such a life.” (Sarah Roffino – Brooklyn Rail)

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My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

Mystery and Manners, The Nature and Aim of Fiction  by Flannery O’Connor (book review here).

How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell (book review here)

Creating Characters, The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction, by the Editors of Writer’s Digest
(book review here) 

Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, & Screen, by Robert McKee  (book review here)

The Annotated Dracula (Bram Stoker), Annotated by Mort Castle (book review here) (Also The Annotated Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Annotated by K.M. Weiland)

How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration, Editor Brunello and Lencek  (book review here)

Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)

More Craft Books I’ve Read and Recommend:

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps StructureSteven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay

Comments are welcome.

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Author in Progress, a No-holds-Barred Guide to Getting Published

Author in Progress, a No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published

by Therese Walsh, Editor & the Writer Unboxed Community

Book Review and Commentary     November 20, 2016

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_la_pia_de_tolomei

 

Unbox your thinking. Unbox  your writing. If you are a reader of  the award-winning blog Writer Unboxed, then you know about this book on the skills of writing and the skills of getting published. Author in Progress has over 50 essays by some of the best writers, novelists, editors, and agents from the Writer Unboxed  community.

I’ve spent the last two weeks reading the essays. Lots to digest here, and I think it’s likely that this is one of those books that you will reach for during your writing journey and during your publishing journey.

In Part 1, literary agent Donald Maass tells us that “writing well doesn’t guarantee success,” so you can expect realistic perspectives. What should you do about literary trends? Maass makes a handy point about chasing trends. He also has some valuable thinking  about (Part 4)  “How much Craft Do you Need?”  I have about 30 writing craft books listed on this blog site (Reviews of Writing Craft Books) and more than that on my shelf. Enough? Have I read and explored enough of the craft?Maass says the “most important piece of craft is the one  you don’t know.” So, I keep reading and reviewing craft books, and I’m often finding tips and techniques I didn’t know. “The best writers never stop learning.”

Do you plot out your novels first in a sturdy organized fashion? Or, do you use your intuition and write organically and freely like Elmore Leonard, Tess Gerritsen, Stephen King, JRR Tolkien? Ray  Rhamey sorts it out in “Plot It, Or Pants It?”

The legendary “Muse” is a constant struggle for a lot of writers. Dave King will help you to recognize and search beyond ordinary inspirations. I loved this chapter because he names the ‘false muses.’

There are lots more in Author in Progress: diving into that first draft, harnessing revisions, creating authentic characters, how to handle critiques, beta readers, writing by ear, psychological struggles of a writing career, writing tribes, and the very helpful essay by Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware–“How Vulnerability Can Increase Over Time, and What You Can do About it.”

authorprogressimgres

You can purchase it here on Amazon for Kindle or soft cover.

 Visit WriterUnboxed.com for daily posts on writing and publishing.

 

My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.


How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career 
by James Scott Bell (book review here)

Creating Characters, The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction, by the Editors of Writer’s Digest
(book review here) 
Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, & Screen, by Robert McKee  (book review here)
The Annotated Dracula (Bram Stoker), Annotated by Mort Castle (book review here) (Also The Annotated Jane        Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Annotated by K.M. Weiland)
How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration,
Editor Piero Brunello and Lena Lencek  (book review here)
Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)

 

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps StructureSteven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay

Comments are welcome, please!

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_la_pia_de_tolomei

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How to Write Short Stories & Use Them to Further Your Writing Career by James Scott Bell

How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career

by James Scott Bell

Book Review and Commentary   November 15, 2016

dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_la_pia_de_tolomei

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”

Edgar Allan Poe

I love short stories and have been reading at least one a week for the past 4 years for this blog and for years before that. A short story is a great lunch companion, especially if you are reading some of the great flash fiction that’s out there these days. Did you ever wonder who wrote the first short story? Scheherazade and The Canterbury Tales come to mind, right? I suppose some might say the Bible were the first stories. Others claim Sir Walter Scott’s  The Two Drovers published in Chronicles of the Canongate in 1827 was the official  first short story published.

But what are the elements of a good short story?  I’ve been writing short stories and novels for some 20 years, and creatively speaking they demand the same skills and practice for storytelling and characterization.  A short story traditionally focuses on one incident,  a single plot, a single setting, often limited to a few characters, and proceeds over a short period of time. At its core, it produces a single narrative effect and that’s why it works so well with an afternoon pot of  tea and a tuna sandwich.

For readers,  we want drama, suspense, a unified impression, vivid sensations, action, climax, thrilling characters, and a satisfactory resolution. And we want it in one sitting and in less than 6000 words. This is not a small achievement! How does a writer do it? Lots of hard work and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting.

Author Kurt Vonnegut offers eight essential tips on how to write a short story:

  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

But this really doesn’t give you enough if you are a  new to writing short fiction or struggling to be a successful short story writer out there in the highly competitive publishing market.  And I can tell you from experience, becoming a short story writer has just as many challenges and obstacles as becoming a novelist. These days, writing the story is one side of the work; then there’s the “getting it published” or marketing it yourself.

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Fortunately, James Scott Bell has written a book that addresses both writing and marketing. This book will grow your writing skills on voice and POV, give you the keys to make your reader feel the characters in your story, and the discover the best structure for short fiction.  How do you find your story? Need a road map? Bell has got it for you. And once you get your story written, Bell gives you tips on getting it edited, into a professional electronic format, with book cover. And he identifies publications submission options as well as advice on getting it up on Amazon.com if you choose to self-publish. The beauty of this book is that it gives you the full distance, from start-up to writing down the bones and to getting it to readers.

Bell uses examples from the best writers (Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, Stephen King, and many others) and gives you 5 excellent short stories to read to set the bar for you. One big disappointment, though, in this book is that Bell didn’t spot a single female author in all his examples and writing samples.  Our literary world is loaded with talented and smart women writers. Why was there no mention of Shirley Jackson, Elizabeth Bowen, Ruth Rendell, Daphne du Maurier,  Joyce Carol Oates, Kate Chopin, Kelly Link, Mary Shelley, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf (some of whose short stories can be found here on this blog site via the index).

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James Scott Bell is an award-winning (Christy Award) best-selling author of seven thrillers, and several writing craft books: Voice, the Power of Great Writing; Super Structure; Just Write; The Mental Game of Writing; and more.

 

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My Recommended List of the Best Writing Books I’ve Read.

Creating Characters, The Complete Guide to Populating Your Fiction, by the Editors of Writer’s Digest
(book review here) 
Dialogue, The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, & Screen, by Robert McKee  (book review here)
The Annotated Dracula (Bram Stoker), Annotated by Mort Castle (book review here) (Also The Annotated Jane        Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Annotated by K.M. Weiland)
How to Write Like Chekhov, Advice and Inspiration,
Editor Piero Brunello and Lena Lencek  (book review here)

Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Ursula K. Le Guin (book review here)
Writing Wild, Tina Welling (book review here)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg (book review here)
Method Writing, Jack Grapes (book review here)
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury (book review here)
On Writing, A Memoir, Stephen King (book review here)

Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway. All the basics of how to write: the writing process, show vs. tell, characterization, fictional atmosphere and place, story structure and plot, point of view, theme, and revision.
Story, Robert McKee
Story Trumps StructureSteven James
The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (I reread this book once a year, it’s that good)
Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern
The Art of Character, David Corbett
Getting into Character, Brandilyn Collins
The Secret Miracle, the Novelist’s Handbook, edited by Daniel Alarcon
Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande
The Faith of a Writer, Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carole Oates
If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland
Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose
Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Best Editing Books for Writers:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King
A Dash of Style, Noah Lukeman
The Grammar Bible, Michael Strumpf & Auriel Douglas
Line by Line, Claire Kehrwald Cook
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Second Edition, Ernest Gowers
Chicago Manual of Style
Words Into Type, Third Edition, Skillin & Gay

Comments are welcome, please!

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